What's Worth Watching: Narcos on Netflix for Sunday, August 30
Narcos (available on Netflix starting Friday, Aug. 28)
With a jaunty pace and frisky tone that belies the savage violence of the real-life story it tells, Netflix's sweeping docudrama Narcos evokes Miami Vice by way of Goodfellas in its highly cinematic approach to the infamous history of Columbian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura). Over 10 episodes set in the 1980s, the series quickly establishes Escobar's ruthless control of the drug's production and distribution, while looking more askance at his attempt to mythologize himself as a "Robin Hood of the poor."
Narcos is also the story of the DEA agents on his trail, most specifically Miami-based Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), whose narration gives wry (and sometimes too on-the-nose) context to the sprawling story of power and brutal payback to anyone trying to get in the drug lord's way. After one setback, Murphy muses of his and partner Javier Peña's (Pedro Pascal) challenge: "We were like the Bermuda Triangle. You get too close to us, you disappear."
The casting of skilled if largely unknown actors, plentiful subtitled dialogue, and vivid location filming give Narcos a pungent authenticity, the better to present Escobar's story within the framework of south-of-the-border magical realism. As Murphy once again voice-overs, commenting on Escobar's efforts to parlay his fame into the political arena: "[Columbia] is a country where dreams and reality are conflated, where in their heads people fly as high as Icarus, but even magical realism has its limits—and when you get too close to the sun, your dreams may melt away."
While one might rightfully wonder if a DEA agent under duress would be given to such literary and mythic allusions, it's fair to say that by the time the charismatic Escobar tries to sell himself as one of the people—"I am not a rich person, I am a poor person with money"—we're not buying it either.